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Unseeded Zhu packs off Kvitova in Tianjin opener

CHINA’S Zhu Lin staved off a mid-match fightback to upset Petra Kvitova for her maiden top-20 victory in the first round of the Tianjin Open on Wednesday.

The unseeded Zhu, who won 6-4, 5-7, 6-4 in the pair’s first meeting, held her own in the early exchanges against the two-time Wimbledon champion.

Kvitova, seeded second, was the first to blink at 4-4 as she handed her rival the chance to break. The Czech world No. 17 missed out on a break in the next as the unforced errors crept up on her game.

Zhu ran up a 5-4 lead in the second set and appeared on course for a comfortable win before Kvitova produced a flurry of winners to level the contest at 1-1.

World No. 113 Zhu went on the attack, taking a 5-3 lead in the decider. She had two chances to seal the match on Kvitova’s serve before eventually prevailing.

“I played so relaxed today,” Zhu said after the match. “In the second set I was serving for the match, but she played great to win this, and then I came back in the third set and I played like my first set, and I think I did it!

“I just played my match. I didn’t think too much about the win, I just enjoyed the match.”

Earlier, Maria Sharapova trounced ninth seed Irina-Camelia Begu 6-4, 6-2 while China No. 1 Peng Shuai defeated compatriot Guo Hanyu 6-2, 7-6 (5).

Currently ranked 86th after returning from a 15-month doping ban, Sharapova — granted a wildcard in Tianjin — plays unseeded Magda Linette of Poland next.

The 30-year-old Sharapova, who returned to tennis in April after serving a suspension for taking the banned substance meldonium, has yet to win a tournament since then.

In China’s Hong Kong, Japanese teenager Naomi Osaka fought back from an early break to stun Venus Williams in straight sets and move through to the quarterfinals of the Hong Kong Open on Wednesday.

Osaka, who prevailed 7-5, 6-2 for her best career win by ranking, double-faulted early in the opening set to hand seven-time grand slam champion Williams the advantage.

The 19-year-old broke back and leveled at 5-5 as the world No. 5 looked to serve for a 1-0 lead. Osaka then pounced on Williams’s serve to break again and took the first set.

“I feel like even if I hit one semi-short ball she would come in and crush it, so I had to play really well,” Osaka said after the match.

Ranked 64 in the world, Osaka began to dictate terms in the second set, racing to 5-0. Williams held her serve to avoid the humiliation of a bagel and broke Osaka to make it 5-2.

A double fault by the 37-year-old handed Osaka two match points and the youngster took the first in style to gain revenge for her loss to the American in the third round at Wimbledon.

Williams has already qualified for the season-ending WTA Finals in Singapore. Others who have booked spots at the October 22-29 event are Garbine Muguruza, Halep, Karolina Pliskova, Elina Svitolina, Caroline Wozniacki and Jelena Ostapenko.

Meanwhile, Russia’s Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova powered past American Jacqueline Cako 7-6 (3), 6-1 to set up a clash with Osaka, while seventh seed Daria Gavrilova of Australia rallied to beat Shelby Rogers of the US 6-1, 2-6, 6-2.

Sam Stosur ensured there would be two Australians in the last eight when she came from a set down to oust fourth seed Agnieszka Radwanska in the final match of the evening 3-6, 6-4, 6-0.

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